Before they both became Super Bowl-winning head coaches, Jon Gruden and Sean Payton worked alongside as members of the Philadelphia Eagles.
In the mid-to-late 90s, Gruden was emerging as one of the best offensive minds in the league, running the Eagles' offense as the offensive coordinator, with Payton serving as his quarterback's coach. During their brief tenure together in 1997, the Eagles finished the season with a top-five offense, amassing over 5,000 yards.
What Gruden and Payton have gone on to achieve individually since then is well documented, but it all started as pupils of head coach Ray Rhodes.
"[Payton and I] had a blast in Philadelphia," Gruden recalled Thursday. "Ray Rhodes made me hire Sean because I was yelling too much, so Sean came to calm me down. Brought us a lot of fresh ideas. David Shaw was there as a quality control man. We used to stay up late at night trying to figure out how to get a first down. Those were great, growing years for all three of us. I'm fortunate to have bumped into those guys."
The time spent in Philadelphia was an influential period in both Gruden's and Payton's life, and it established the foundation for who they'd become as head coaches later in their careers. Throughout their coaching professions, both have built reputations as offensive masterminds. Thursday afternoon, Payton noted his 1997 season with the Gruden as his advanced introduction to play calling.
"For me, it was an offensive foundation and not only the scheme, but also the attention to detail, and the hours, and the work ethic," he said via conference call. "It was a crash course of learning all the things you didn't know, specifically the red zone, tight red zone on third down."
Following their departure from the Eagles, both ended up becoming head coaches in the NFC South, Gruden with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Payton with the New Orleans Saints. For three seasons, the duo duked it out as division rivals, each defeating the other three times.
For the first time in 12 years, the former colleagues are slated to face off on the gridiron, under the bright lights of primetime this Monday. Even though it's been several years since the two coached against each other, Payton can still identify a constant theme in Gruden's squad.
"Number one, I mentioned this to our team today, wherever Jon has been as a coordinator or as a head coach, he's committed to the running game," Payton said. "His teams have a presence about them and a physicality about the way they play."
The 1-0 Las Vegas Raiders handled business against the Carolina Panthers in Week 1, but the Saints are a different beast. Gruden and Payton know each other well and their past experience will create a fun matchup come Monday night.
View photos from practice at Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center as the Raiders prepare for their home opener against the New Orleans Saints.